Ohio 54th Zouaves, Civil War Manuscript Archive Including Correspondence Between Brothers Robert and Henry Williams
Lot of 22 Civil War-era letters from two brothers, Robert and Henry Williams, to their father Robert Williams Senior, dating from 1861 to 1865. Accompanied by a substantial amount of research material and modern photographs of grave sites and family memorabilia.
Robert Williams, Jr., was born January 24, 1841, in Franklin County, PA, to Robert Williams, Sr., and his wife Elizabeth. The family moved to Preble County, OH, in 1856. Robert Jr. had limited schooling and became engaged in the cooper’s trade at an early age. In April 1861 he enlisted as a sergeant in Company B of the 20th Ohio Infantry for a three-month assignment. In the autumn of that same year, he enlisted in Company B of the Ohio 54th Infantry (Zouaves) for three-years service. He was promoted to Captain, Major, and Colonel during his enlistment. Williams was severely wounded in the battle of Chickasaw Bayou and was also plagued with illness including respiratory problems and smallpox. This led to his resignation due to disability in September 1864. Williams was well regarded by his superiors during his service. He married Elvira Elliott in 1863 and together they had six children. He served as treasurer of Preble County and Collector of Internal Revenue for the State of Ohio in his post-war career.
Henry C. Williams was Robert’s younger brother. He was born five years later (1846) but also in Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the Union Army, he was also a cooper in Preble County, OH. In August 1862 Henry enlisted in the Ohio 93rd Infantry as a private. (He apparently falsified his age as 19 in the enlistment process.) He was wounded in the Battle of Perryville and was subsequently discharged to the care of his father in March 1863 due to disability and the discovery that he was under age. In February 1864, Henry re-enlisted in Company B of the Ohio 54th Infantry as a private (this time using his true age of 18). He served to the end of the war, mustering out in August 1865 at Little Rock, AR. After the war, Henry married Sarah Emaline Murray in 1872 and together they had one daughter. He owned a grocery in Camden, OH, that he ran for most of the remainder of his life.
The 54th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was organized at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, in October 1861, for a three-year enlistment under the command of Colonel Kilby Smith. The men were mainly drawn from southwestern and central Ohio counties. The 54th operated principally in the Western Theater but moved on to the east with Sherman in the latter stages of the war. This unit saw a good deal of heavy action including Shiloh, the siege of Corinth, Chickasaw Bayou, Fort Hindman, Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and Bentonville. It was dissolved in August 1865 at Little Rock, AR. Four officers and 83 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded and three officers and 143 enlisted men died of accidents, disease or other causes.
The war was not kind to the men of Preble County including Robert. However, he fought on and never wavered from his duties. On May 6, 1863, he reported to his father: I received a letter from you…but was not able to answer on account of sickness. I was taken with the Small Pox on the 12th day of april and have been in the hospital…since that time…I intend to try to get a furlough and go home until I get so that I can do duty…please excuse the few lines as my hand is not very steady yet.
Robert persevered and in May 1864, he was praising his men for their fortitude as they approached Atlanta: I had some fears that some of the recruits would become frightened and cause the whole command to become disorganized. But not so. They stood like veterans and now I can rely on them any where…The army is in good condition and will whip the rebel Army any time or place that they may choose.
Henry’s letters tend to be longer and more folksy, but also more descriptive of the tribulations of the war. On June 15, 1864, he wrote: there was a company of jonnies come over into our lines yesterday morning and they said there was a whole division of the rebs that will come wen they get a good chance to do it. I [think] that there will be a hot time here in a few days… I have never got sick yet and don’t [think] I shall wen there is any battle going on fore they are put back to the hospital and there is almost as much danger their as there is in the front.
On October 17, 1864, he wrote from Atlanta: this is the hardest looking town I ever saw. The houses is all shot to pieces and they are tearing all the houses down that [ain’t] occupied…There is about 3000 sick and wounded here now…I herd that Rob had resigned. I am glad to hear it if it is so fore he [ain’t] fit fore the service.
All are signed by the author and dated. The letters have been transcribed to facilitate reading. Paper size varies: some sheets are folded to form multiple pages. The letters are in good to very good condition with some fading and paper deterioration. Also included are a substantial amount of background research material and some modern day photos of grave sites and family memorabilia. The collection is attractively bound in a 15 x 12 inch leather binder with plastic sheet protectors.